§ 3.0 p.m.
§ LORD SALTOUN rose to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to some of the forms of persecution suffered by those railwaymen who remained loyal to their duty at the Prime Minister's appeal; and to move to resolve, That this House regrets the apparent inability of Her Majesty's Government and the British Transport Commission to protect railwaymen who obeyed the Prime Minister's appeal to remain in their duty. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in commending to your Lordships the Motion which stands in my name to-day, I want to begin by saying that it is not my intention to criticise the Transport Commission in any way. I had to bring them into the Motion because, if they had been in a position to do what I always wished they would do, there would have been no need for the Motion at all. As it is, I am not really criticising Her Majesty's Government; I am only trying to point out to them what I believe to be a duty: and if I criticise anybody or anything it is probably a system of industrial bargaining which leaves one side bound by agreements and leaves the other side apparrently free to do what they like.
§ As your Lordships know, this matter arises out of the strike of engine drivers firemen and cleaners, which started at the end of last May. At the commencement of that strike, the Prime Minister broadcast to us all. He broadcast in his character as Prime Minister, and he was announced as such by the B.B.C. He spoke with exactly the same authority as Sir Winston Churchill, Mr. Attlee, or any of his predecessors when they were Prime Minister; and, as I say, he spoke to us all. He explained that the conciliation machinery had broken down and that the T.U.C. had used all their efforts to prevent the strike. He showed how dangerous to society its success would be and then, in some detail, how it would injure the nation at home and abroad. I think that is a fair résumé of the Prime Minister's broadcast, which I have here, if any noble Lord disagrees with my précis.
§ I do not think that any railwayman who heard that broadcast could fail to believe that the Prime Minister considered the strike to be wrong and unjustified, and that the proper course would be to remain at work. I hope the noble Lord who is 688 to reply for the Government will not challenge that view, because if he does I shall have to go deeper into the matter than I wish at this stage. In the event, about 400 men remained at work, or returned to work. I myself happen to know one man who went back to work. It was owing to these 400 men that a truncated service was maintained throughout the country, from which, of course, the country greatly benefited.
§ When the strike was over, the public were informed that one of the principal conditions of the settlement was that there should be no victimisation on either side. Shortly after the settlement I happened to see in the Press that one railwayman—I think it was somewhere in the Midlands —was being subjected to harsh treatment by his companions who had returned to work after being on strike. I wrote privately to Her Majesty's Government, and the reply I received did not reassure me on the point and I therefore put down a Starred Question, which was asked in your Lordships' House on July 27 last. Your Lordships may remember that the reply of Her Majesty's Government on that occasion was that there were a few cases of ill-feeling; that the Transport Commission and the officers of the Union were trying to allay them, and that the trouble was dying down: that it had been agreed that there should be no victimisation; that the Government were keeping in touch with the situation and that the matter would be best left in the hands in which it was, without Government interference.
§ I submit that on that Answer I was justified in assuming that the Union and British Railways were both firmly adhering to the principle of no victimisation, and that, although there was a little natural friction amongst the men, it would die away if left alone. This being so, it seemed to me that the Government were perfectly right to hold their hand at the moment, although, at the same time. I did not feel that any of us was entitled to wash his hands of the matter and put it aside altogether, taking it for granted that everything was all right. At the beginning of the Recess I made a few inquiries, but I was away in Canada for most of the Recess, and it was not until I returned in the middle of October that I set to work to collect some facts.
§ It is not easy for a private person like myself. I cannot institute a general 689 inquiry, and I am also hampered by the fact that men are not very willing to let anybody outside know what is happening to them, for fear that it will lead to further reprisals against which they see no protection. However, I am not entirely without friends in British Railways, and I did get sufficient information to make me feel that victimisation of the men who remained at their posts was pretty well universal throughout the country. At the present moment, five months after the resumption of work, it seems to have lightened in certain respects and in certain cases, especially where men may be judged to have been brought to a more submissive frame of mind. But in others it seems to be eon-tinning just as fiercely as ever. I have taken statements from two men and I have had them examined and drafted by a competent lawyer. I have checked them, where possible, by inquiry on the railway, and I believe them to be true. My information is that, in widely separated parts of the country, men are receiving treatment to-day similar to that which I shall describe to your Lordships—that is, except for one incident, which I hope and believe to be exceptional.
§ First, I think I had better say what I believe we all mean by "no victimisation." I mean by that that the person who benefits from it resumes or retains a position of similar standing to that which he enjoyed before the dispute started, and that he is not subjected to any inequitable or disparaging treatment by the other parties to the dispute. With that interpretation I think we shall all agree. If that is right, then any impression that we may have formed last July that the promise of "no victimisation" was being mutually kept seems to me to be very far from the truth. Even in July, some of the men who had remained at their posts had been dismissed from their union. I have been told that there were in all about 100 dismissals, and that the greater part of these took place after the middle of August; but certainly some took place at the beginning of July. I think some notices were posted on July 8, but if most of the dismissals took place after the middle of August, then it does seem to me that the honesty of accepting contributions all July from men whom it was intended to dismiss from the Union in August is rather questionable. 690 I do not think that ought to have been done.
My main contention is that these dismissals themselves were a breach of the agreement. It is said that the union have a rule upon the subject which they cannot break. The rule says:
Should the Executive Committee decide at any time to withdraw members from their employment in a dispute between employer and employed, any member or members failing to comply with such decision on receiving notice of the same shall be expelled from the Society.
If that rule is, as is contended, inexorable, which I deny, then it is a principle of good faith, which we should all acknowledge, that the people on the other side, the Transport Commission, should have had their attention drawn to that fact when the "no victimisation" clause was agreed upon. After all, the men who were negotiating were not children; they were experienced negotiators. Practically the only form of victimisation which a trade union can adopt as a corporate body is expulsion. Therefore, it certainly should have been a matter for discussion between the two parties when the "no victimisation" clause was agreed. If it was not—and my information is that it was not—then, whatever the force of the rule, they were bound to put it aside. But is this rule inexorable? Even on the facts, I am told that only a hundred or so, and not all, members of the union have been expelled. I am in a position to show that some of the members who were expelled did not receive proper notice of the strike. I do not mean to say that they did not see it in the Press or hear it on the B.B.C., but they did not receive a proper form of notice of strike. And yet they were expelled. If those two things are true, it seems to me that the executive of the union is allowed considerable latitude in interpreting this rule, and that there was, therefore, no obstacle to putting into full force this agreement of mutual non-victimisation. I do not think I need labour that point any more to your Lordships.
§ This "no victimisation" clause opens up a wide question which we do not want to argue to-day. I remember once writing to a certain Minister of Labour, saying that I thought the "no victimisation" clause was a mistake, because, if men felt they had everything to gain and nothing to lose from strikes, then there would never be art end to strikes. The Minister 691 wrote back and said that that might be all very well, but the "no victimisation" clause did tend to do away with the mutual bitterness which was felt after a strike. Of course one admits that that is probably the case. Your Lordships will be able to form an opinion on that matter by what follows.
§ By the dismissal, the position of these men is radically changed for the worse compared with what it was before the strike; and, of course, they are in daily fear of being dismissed from the railway because they do not belong to a union. I remember the first railwayman I visited. I shall not easily forget the apprehension he displayed when he thought I was an official from the railway, come to visit him and dismiss him because he had not gone on strike. This also involves these men in the loss of their share of the industrial benefit, the orphan fund and the eyesight fund. Your Lordships will realise that although the benefit of these funds is likely to be required later rather than earlier in life, even at the beginning of a man's career in a union there is a small, unexhausted interest which remains to him in these funds. It is not exhausted in the year in respect of which payments are made; it is a gradually accumulating interest in the funds of the union. But of that interest, big or little as the case may be, they have been arbitrarily deprived by this dismissal.
§ Again, the dismissal has served as a signal to all members of the union to start the process known as "sending to Coventry," where no one speaks to a man unless it is actually necessitated by duty. If, accidents occur in consequence, it is just too bad—I do not mean railway accidents, but little personal accidents. It is against that background that your Lordships must imagine what follows. I shall give your Lordships an example of the kind of thing which I hope is rare but which shows the temper to which men are brought by this business of "sending to Coventry" and victimisation. After the strike, in one station there was a general distribution of new overalls, and one of these men "in Coventry" took his overalls and tied them up in a parcel. He placed it above a notice board in the drivers' room in a place to reach which he had to get on to a bench. When he was engaged on his work he heard a cleaner complaining 692 that he had lost his jacket. When he went to get his overalls, he found that the parcel seemed a little different to him. He opened it and there he found the missing jacket wrapped up in his overalls and tied up again. He was lucky to notice that before he left the premises. It is horrible and frightening to a man to be "framed." I believe and sincerely hope that that kind of thing is rare, but the temper that that displays is frightening to anyone engaged in work upon the railway. He happened to be a man of engaging and easy temper. He reports now that, with some exceptions, he is much better treated. I expect he has learnt his lesson—not to pay attention to the Prime Minister, whoever he may be, whenever there is a strike in view.
§ The other case I want to bring before your Lordships concerns a man of a very different temper and in a superior position. He has endured unremitting hostility, which includes overt acts, during the whole of these five months. Like the rest, he has been dismissed from his union and lost his benefits. He is a driver on a link of the railway which is a considerable distance from his home, and his place on the roster was arranged so that he never had a chance of getting home at week-ends. Therefore he put in a request through the usual channels to have his place on the roster changed, so that sometimes he could get home at a weekend. That request was granted automatically. As soon as that was known, the union officials on that branch roused the men of his link and of other links separate from his, men of grades different from his, to join in a "round robin" to the authorities to ask them to cancel that change of the roster. A superintendent immediately came out and cancelled the alteration of the roster. Your Lordships will appreciate the feelings of a man to whom no one will speak, who has secured the removal of an unjust burden, at finding it replaced by a representative of those for whose sake he has endured his purgatory. I should add that the National Union of Railwaymen were so impressed with the injustice of this treatment that they offered to fight the case for him if he would join the union. He is grateful to them but does not feel inclined to join any union at present—and I do not exactly blame him.693
That is the kind of thing that one is hearing about all over the country. It may be said—perhaps somebody will say it—"Ah, yes, but you are mistaken and your friend is mistaken in ascribing his troubles to the action of the union." My information is otherwise. The man strikes me as truthful; besides which I have a letter from a very different part of Britain on the same point. It is too long to read entirely but I will read parts. It came to me enclosing a newspaper notice of this debate to-day. It says:
A friend of mine has sent along the enclosed cutting and if correctly reported it is welcome news to me. I should like you to know that I am grateful. I am not writing because of self-interest … but I have grave doubts about the future of any individual who dares to challenge the powerful trade union and the branch room bullies. In the recent railway strike the National Union of Railwaymen came to work but were stopped by pickets"—
Then follow details of three men who were frightened off, including one whose home was visited. Your Lordships will realise that when a man is at work this visiting of the family in the home is most terrifying and horrible, and I am not surprised that any man is frightened. We have had it before, on other occasions, and I do not need to labour the point to your Lordships. The letter goes on:
I could go on, but I leave it to your good judgment to suns the situation up. The striking bullies came back to work to seek their vengeance on the loyal worker. When I challenged them with the 'no victimisation' agreement they just laughed. So I wish you every success in your effort to spotlight this evil bullying and 'Coventry' business before it is too late—for the benefit of others.
This man says "for the benefit of others" because I believe he has left the railway service.
§ My Lords, I want to add that this kind of situation on the railways is dangerous to the public. It is of the highest importance that men upon whom the safety of the public depends should not he subjected to this kind of strain and worry. I had put that point a great deal more strongly in my original draft notes. I have confined it only because I want to be the last person to suggest that the terrible accident that we have deplored has anything to do with the situation about which I am complaining. At the same time, it would not be right to pass this subject without drawing your Lordships' attention to that side of it. I am 694 glad to say that, in Scotland anyway, this business of "sending to Coventry" is receiving emphatic condemnation from the pulpit. It Is a good sign, and I hope it will go on.
§ Now I want to ask the Government a question. Was it or was it not right for these men for whom I am pleading to go to work? If it was right, why did not the Prime Minister in his broadcast make that quite clear? If it was right, then they deserve protection. I have brought these matters to your Lordships' attention because I think you ought to know the kind of thing that is going on. The healing hand of time invoked by Her Majesty's Government in July has clearly failed. These men have endured a purgatory of five months, and there is no sign of relaxation. Every subject of Her Majesty is entitled to sufficient protection to go about his work unmolested. In this case, and in spite of the terms of settlement, it seems to be the pride of the people concerned that the lives of these men are made intolerable.
§ Can the Government give no protection? Is the whole force of the Cabinet and Parliament powerless? It seems to me that if the Government cannot usefully intervene, as I think is probable, they can do one thing: they can help such men as are discontented in their employment on the railways, who are unhappy in consequence of what has happened, to find other work; and they can take care that it is not too unremunerative. My information is that some of these men have lost half of their income by leaving the railways and going to other casual labour; and I am bound to say that, after everything that has happened, that is a thing which I cannot realise with indifference. It would be a sad thing for me to realise, as perhaps I must, that the Government I support have led humble people, even if it be inadvertently, into a position of danger and suffering and then left them to bear it. My Lords, we in this House have little political power; perhaps we do not seek it. But we have our reputation and our character, and we can express an opinion. It is that opinion that I am asking your Lordships to express to-clay. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House regrets the apparent inability of Her Majesty's Government and the British 695 Transport Commission to protect railwaymen who obeyed the Prime Minister's appeal to remain in their duty during the recent railway strike.—(Lord Saltoun.)
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ LORD MATHERS
My Lords, the noble Lord who has put forward this Resolution obviously feels very much the circumstances which he has been describing. I look upon him, in the circumstances in which he finds himself and with the opinions that he holds, as having treated this matter with considerable restraint. Obviously, he is feeling much more strongly than he has allowed himself to express. As he said, he determined to deal with the facts and the facts only, and I pay him the compliment that, from his point of view, he has put this matter forward in a way that we can look upon as in keeping with the manner in which this House deals with subjects. When he talks about facts—well, we all know that…, facts are chiefs that winna ding,And downa be disputed.If all that he has said is true, then I am sure that there is a great deal of regret in all our minds that such things should be.
But I am not happy that this Resolution should appear on the Order Paper of this House, and I should be sorry to see it passed by this Assembly and to have this noble House embroiled in an industrial matter of this kind. The noble Lord comes of a long lineage, his noble ancestors going back five hundred years. I, too, have a lineage. My lineage is a railway one—I am the third generation in a line of railway workers, and proud of it. I regret that there should have been these troubles on the railways, because I am a lifelong trade unionist who strove for the good negotiating machinery which was established a number of years ago on the railways, and I have been proud of the way in which that machinery has worked—perhaps the best industrial negotiating machinery in existence in this country. I want to see that negotiating machinery used and differences smoothed out by its use.
I think that unofficial strikes and many of the differences that occur in the industrial world are totally wrong and much to be deplored, and that we should be against them. But that is not to say that this House should, on a matter of this 696 kind, seek to bring itself into the picture and to take up the attitude that the noble Lord invites us to take up. He is talking from the point of view of one who looks at the trade union movement. I have often had opportunities of comparing the trade union movement with other combinations of individuals in this country. There are organisations which can exert over their individual members a tyranny quite as strong as that suggested by the noble Lord, even conceding for the moment that everything that he has said is true. There have been cases of professional organisations dealing with what they describe as "unprofessional conduct" whose actions have been quite as drastic and destructive of the individual's livelihood as the action represented by the noble Lord.
He says that his Resolution is not intended to criticise either Her Majesty's Government or the British Transport Commission; but the Resolution inevitably does so. In citing in this House a failure to protect railwaymen who obeyed the appeal of the Prime Minister there must be a criticism of the Government and the Commission. I hope it is quite clear that I am in no way condoning any action which the noble Lord has justly criticised in his speech: but he went to the length of making reference to the deplorable and most regrettable accident which occurred during the week-end and said, quite clearly, that he would not in any way attribute this accident to causes which might arise from matters on which he had been speaking. Yet there he has sown the seed of a suspicion that it might have been.
§ LORD MATHERS
That was the one regrettable departure by the noble Lord from those proprieties which we in this House wish to preserve.
My Lords, what the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, has said makes me regret that I offered any explanation at all. That suggestion was utterly out of my mind; I give the noble Lord my word of honour upon that. I very nearly cut that argument out altogether. I mentioned it only because I felt it was my duty to do so. The last thing in the world that I should wish to do would be to imply such a thing.
§ LORD MATHERS
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord most sincerely for completely absolving himself from any suspicion of that kind that might be directed against him by anyone reading his speech. Perhaps he will forgive me for having spoken strongly on the point, but I felt that it was regrettable that the noble Lord should have made even the tentative suggestion which fell from his lips. I have spoken of being a railwayman and a trade unionist, and I would tell the noble Lord and this House that it is not wise to get embroiled in a family quarrel. It will be remembered that this was a family quarrel with two unions taking different views on a matter relating to industrial activities. I am sorry that the noble Lord has raised the matter in this way. I wish he had accepted the advice given to him when he raised the subject before, when he was told that it would he wise to leave the situation as it was. The noble Lord has now stirred things up again and has erred in doing so.
Victimisation does not occur very often in the railway industry, but it has occurred, within my experience, to colleagues who have been on strike and have later been subjected to official victimisation. There I am going back many years and I thank God (I say that quite reverently) that over these years the temper in the railway industry has improved. Yet there have been times when men striking for much more modest demands than are made by the trade union movement nowadays have found themselves punished for their stand. I remember one particular instance which affected a large number of people. There was a declaration by the then railway company that they would not show upon a man's service record card the fact that he had taken part in that particular strike; but they clearly indentified him as having taken part in the strike because those who had remained at work, whom we had called "blacklegs," had their cards endorsed to the effect that they had remained loyal. That was the manner in which a declaration and an undertaking of "no victimisation" was observed in the old days. I am glad to think that the railway management to-day is much better than that which took such action in the past. I will not go into the details raised by the noble Lord. I could not attempt to defend what he has condemned. I will only say that I do not 698 believe he is rendering a service to this House, to the country, or to the people on the railways, by bringing forward a Resolution of this kind; and I hope he will find himself advised to withdraw it.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, many of you, like myself, will have been very worried by some of the facts which the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, has put before us this afternoon. Many of us will not have been happy about past occurrences involving this curious action of "sending people to Coventry." I feel, however, that these are not matters upon which Her Majesty's Government should take any particular action. As the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, has just said, this is really a family quarrel which can best be dealt with by the members of that family. One would like, however, to see somebody speaking out against this kind of practice. We are told that the Churches of Scotland are taking up a certain line in condemning this attitude, and I believe that to be a more satisfactory course than for Her Majesty's Government to take any action.
The matter which we are discussing to-day, however, is not quite the same kind of thing. It seems to me that on this occasion workmen who were obeying a request by the Prime Minister, and who were going beck to work under a "no victimisation" agreement have, in fact, been victimised. That is where I think Her Majesty's Government might lend some kind of assistance to see that this sort of thing does not occur in the future, and even, possibly, to put a stop to it now. No one welcomes more than myself and noble. Lords en these Benches the fact that victimisation does not now occur after strikes. I have always been particularly interested in railway affairs because when my father was alive he was very much involved in work connected with railway wages. That is what tempted me to speak to-day. I would only add, speaking on behalf of noble Lords behind me, that we support the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, in his Resolution.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Loan AILWYN
My Lords, in rising to support the Resolution moved by my noble friend Lord Saltoun I am mindful of the Answer that he received from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on July 27 last, to the effect that he did not consider that Her Majesty's Government 699 could usefully take action in the matter. In a further reply to an interjection of mine, the noble Lord gave it as his opinion that it was inappropriate for the Government to intervene in matters of this sort. That was four months ago, and the persecution, as we have heard, still continues. I wonder whether Her Majesty's Government really are of the opinion that this victimisation and intimidation of men such as those to whom my noble friend, Lord Saltoun, has referred should be allowed to continue without let or hindrance from the Government—always remembering the Prime Minister's urgent appeal in this connection.
Much play was made in another place the week before last, in the course of the Burgess-Maclean debate, on the imperative necessity of preserving at all costs the liberty of the subject. Great concern was expressed—and very rightly—lest any new measures proposed for improving the efficiency of our security services should savour too much of McCarthyism and interfere with the British traditional way of life and liberty. Very well. We may hear a little more of that in the debate which is to follow in this House this afternoon. But how in the name of all that is wonderful do Her Majesty's Government equate such sentiments, such wholly admirable sentiments, with the case of tyranny which we are discussing to-day? I am one of those who regard as wholly regrettable the virtual disappearance—in fact the elimination—of the Independent Member of Parliament. To my mind, nothing is more deplorable than the trend to-day, both in the political world and in the industrial sphere, to stifle all expression of independent thought and judgment. If you want a voice in the Parliamentary counsels of the nation to-day, however original and thoughtful and constructive your ideas may be towards benefiting your country, you must align yourself with one or other of the massive, mammoth, monster murmurations called political Parties, and be whipped into abiding by the leaders' decrees. And unless you are prepared to be shepherded in this way and become a mere soulless cog in the juggernaut machine, you not only incur the wrath of the slaves of the lamp, but you are looked upon as a rebel and a renegade.
May I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment, to remind him that there are exceptions to that general rule?
§ LORD AILWYN
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord, I fully appreciate that.
Lest your Lordships are beginning to think that this is somewhat of a digression from the subject under discussion, let me say at once that I regard this particular matter which we are discussing to-day as symptomatic of this general trend towards clamping down upon independent thought and action. Here to-day it occurs not in the political but in the industrial world. Nobody in his senses will deny the great value of the trade unions of this country, nor seek to minimise the immense benefit they can be, and indeed have been, over the last decade or two. The influence and wisdom and humanity of men like the late Ernest Bevin have shaped and nourished, invigorated and sustained them, and watched over their progress and achievement—to the benefit of many millions in this land. But to-day one is sorely tempted to quote Lord Acton and his dictum on the corrupting influence of power. The attitude of some trade unions to the proposal, for instance, to import foreign labour at a time of urgent need —at a time when jobs just cannot otherwise be filled—is to the ordinary thinking man indefensible. There are other unhappy instances well known to your Lordships, and there is this one that we are discussing to-day. I beg the trade union leaders concerned to tread softly —to be a little more discerning, a little more discriminating. Let it never be said that the Welfare State, through any action of theirs, has acted as a steamroller and has served to crush the welfare of the individual. Let it never be said that their watchword is: "Stand and Deliver!" But if it should be so, then Her Majesty's Government have not only the right but the duty to step in and to give protection to those who have put the country's welfare before that of sectional interests.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, before the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government rises, may I say that I personally should find it of some assistance if we could have an expression of opinion about this matter 701 from the Opposition Front Bench. The noble Lord, Lord Mathers, in his interesting speech, quoted some ancient history. Quite frankly, I do not think that that helps us very much in judging what is a current tragedy —because it is a tragedy. No one who listened to the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, can doubt that the continuance of this state of affairs is tragic, and I feel that I, for one, should be greatly helped if we could have some expression of opinion about this from the Front Bench opposite. Great as is the weight which Lord Mathers carries in the Labour Party, I should have liked some expression of guidance from the Leader of the Opposition in your Lordships' House or, at all events, from the Front Bench of the Labour Party.
§ LORD MATHERS
My Lords, may I intervene at this point to say to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, that the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, had intended to take part, from the Opposition Front Bench, in this debate. But he had to fulfil another engagement, and he asked me to go to the Front Bench in order to speak to your Lordships as I have spoken. I had nothing prepared, but Lord Hall knew the general trend of the line that I should take. When he suggested my speaking from the Front Bench I told him. "That does not really matter; I will just speak from here." So I hope that nothing will be read into the fact that I did not take my rightful place on the Front Bench in order to make the statement I have made.
§ LORD HENDERSON
My Lords, perhaps I may he allowed to say that my noble friend Lord Mathers speaks on behalf of the Labour Party. He is a Front Bench speaker, but he happened to-day to be sitting on the second Bench and preferred to speak from that place. What he has said represents the general view of our Party, and I do not think I could say anything that would be different from what he has said. We rest our case on what my noble friend has said.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY on DEFENCE (LORD CARRINGTON)
My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for his explanation. My noble friend Lord Saltoun, as I think all noble Lords will agree, has 702 raised an extremely important question this afternoon. As he mentioned in the course of his speech, he and I had some correspondence about victimisation at the beginning of July, and at the end of that month my noble friend asked a Starred Question in this House on the same subject. On that occasion, I gave him such information as I then had. Now to-day we have the Motion which is on the Order Paper, a Motion divided into two parts: first, to draw attention to some of the forms of persecution suffered by railwaymen who did not strike; and, secondly, a resolution regretting the inability of the Government: and the British Transport Commission to protect those who remained at work. Although my noble friend said he did not intend to be critical in his speech, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, that the text of the Motion is critical both of the British Transport Commission and of Her Majesty's Government. These are two entirely separate issues and I shall try to deal with them separately.
First of all, with regard to persecution. The noble Lord spore of particular cases of which he himself has personal knowledge, and of the suffering which has been caused to a number of men as a result. I imagine that those who have not followed this matter very closely will have heard of these cases with dismay. It is true, as has been pointed out, that in a number of cases hostility has been shown towards men who had remained at work by others who had come out on strike, and that their hostility has been not only irresponsible and childish, but in certain cases unfair and cruel. I should have thought that everyone, both inside this House and outside it, would have roundly condemned this sort of action—whether they be employers, trade unionists, Labour, Conservative or Liberal. This behaviour does no credit to anybody and is certainly not in the spirit of patient negotiation and sensible compromise with which we try to run our industrial affairs. Loyalty, whether it be to your family, your union, your school—or whatever it might he—is an admirable quality, but when carried to a point where it causes suffering and hardship to those who are innocent of any offence, it is surely not to be looked upon as a virtue. There is therefore no doubt that behaviour of this kind has taken place and we deplore it.
703 Equally, it would be wrong to exaggerate the size of this problem. There have been comparatively few cases, and I cannot agree with the noble Lord that victimisation has been widespread throughout the country. The vast majority of those who work on the railways would not dream of behaving in such a way. I have been interested to see that several influential commentators and columnists have drawn attention to this situation and there can be no doubt that public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to retaliation of this kind. This in the end will have far more effect in preventing it than any action which could be taken by the Government or the British Transport Commission.
I come now to the second part of the Motion—that is to say, the Resolution where my noble friend regrets the inability of the Government to protect these railwaymen. My noble friend's case is that the Prime Minister made an appeal to those concerned not to strike. I think I should point out that the Government were not directly involved in the dispute and were not a party to the agreement which ended it. What in fact the Prime Minister did was to explain that any such strike would do great damage to the country. I should like to quote his exact words. These are the words which are relevant to the Motion:Whatever happens now, the country is going to be hurt, and many of you will suffer inconvenience and hardship; workers as well as holiday-makers. More serious still, the damage which must be caused will injure our country in a world which is becoming increasingly competitive. Supplies to factories will be affected at once; this must bring unemployment on a rapidly increasing scale to workers in no way involved in this dispute. Hardship and loss there must be, but we will do all we can to protect the nation from the worst effects of this strike.I should have thought that it was the clear duty of the Prime Minister to put the seriousness of the position and the consequences of a strike before the people of this country. But that is not to say that he or the Government were in a position to protect those who did not strike from the consequences of their action where the consequences were not outside the law.
The position of the Commission, however, is entirely different, and they have taken a very serious view of the agreement which was reached between the 704 trade union concerned and themselves when the railway strike was settled. In that agreement an undertaking was given on both sides that there would be no victimisation, and since then the Commission have been in touch with the union in order to draw their attention to action taken at certain depôts against members who had not come out on strike. Officers of the union visited a number of depôts where trouble persisted and the general manager of the railway region arranged for a superior officer to go and talk further with the few men who were associated with this kind of action. The Commission have done everything in their power to restore good relations between all members of the staff. But I repeat that, taking the country as a whole, only a very small number of cases have been reported to the British Transport Commission.
The responsibility rests between the British Transport Commission and the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen. The agreement which ended the strike last June was reached between the British Transport Commission and the union at the Ministry of Labour and was one to which the Commission and the union were the sole parties. The fact that the Ministry of Labour helped in its normal function of conciliation and in that way may have assisted the Commission and the union to reach agreement does not in any way detract from the responsibility which rests upon the two parties to see that their agreement is carried out. The fact that the Ministry helped the parties to reach agreement does not mean that it has a continuing right to intervene without being asked, in matters which arise out of that agreement. It is a fundamental principle that the Ministry of Labour must be completely impartial in its relationship with the two sides of industry. Any other course would have a most serious effect upon the position of the Ministry in conciliating in industrial disputes. The Ministry of Labour, therefore, is not in a position to bring pressure to bear upon either the employer or the trade union involved in this matter which is entirely their concern.
So far as I know, no action has been taken which has resulted in men who remained at work during the strike losing their employment in the railway service 705 on that account. The possibility of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen taking advantage of their rules to expel members who did not strike was never envisaged by the Commission at the end of the negotiations. The Commission have given full effect to their side of the agreement. I understand that, when the time comes for men who remained at work during the strike to retire, if there is any question of their being deprived of union benefits, the Commission will examine each case on its merits and consider what assistance might be appropriate where hardship would otherwise arise.
My Lords, I hope that in what I say I do not appear in any way to he unsympathetic to the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun. Indeed, one can only thank him for raising and ventilating an issue about which he and others feel most strongly. But I must say again that I think we should be careful not to exaggerate the size of this problem in this or any other industry. It is no doubt perfectly true and deplorable that certain individuals have suffered greatly, and I do not wish to minimise that, or, indeed, to excuse it. But I think we must look at this matter in its true perspective. It would he quite wrong to suggest, as I thought my noble friend did, that the Transport Commission are not concerned for the well-being of their employees. I know, and so does my noble friend, that the Chairman himself has taken a personal and most human interest in this matter and is well aware of what is going on.
I would go further and say that the Transport Commission are behaving as the best employer would behave. They are, as I have just said, prepared in proper circumstances to give assistance where hardship would arise. It is no good, however, pretending that the Government, the Transport Commission or anybody else can force people to speak to each other, when they do not want to. If I had quarrelled with my noble friend and was directed by the Government to apologise and resume my previous happy relationship with him, even though I was wrong, I should be very irritated at this interference in my affairs; and certainly no good would come of it. I noticed throughout the admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, that he had no suggestion to make to remedy this situation.
I beg the noble Lord's pardon I did propose a remedy. I said that it was clearly impossible for "All the King's horses and all the King's men" to make people talk to one another when they did not want to; I put it in the same way as he has done, only I used other words. But I suggested that the Government should take special care, through the labour exchanges, to find suitable and remunerative employment for those people who have been forced out of the railway service by the matter of which I complained. I might add that if there are only a few, as the noble Lord suggests, it should be easier for the Government to do something. Why do they not do it?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
With respect, I do not think that is a remedy. That is putting things right after they have gone wrong. I was trying to get at the evil of the situation before that arose. Obviously, Orders in Council, directives, appeals, and exhortations are not the cure for this problem; nor is the question of compensation with money. This seems to me entirely the wrong approach. What is needed is an understanding of the situation, of the inevitable bitterness which arises after the sort of strike of last June, which was basically a dispute between two unions.
What is needed is patience and good will by everyone concerned. What is needed is a realisation by everyone that actions of the sort mentioned by noble Lords this afternoon are foolish and useless and lead only to more bitterness and more unpleasantness. Of course, I do not pretend that this ill-feeling has entirely disappeared. It has not. But I do assure the House that the British Transport Commission are very conscious of their responsibilities in this matter and are doing everything in their rower to bring about a proper solution. I think it very important that we in this House should not say or do anything this afternoon which will make their task more difficult. My noble friend has given this problem an airing and we have had an interesting short debate. We have all recognised the sincerity with which he has spoken, and I think that he, in his turn, will feel that he has had a most sympathetic reply from the Government. I hope, therefore, that in the circumstances he will feel that it will not further his cause or benefit the man whom he seeks to serve by pressing his Resolution to a Division.
§ 4.5 p.m.
My Lords, in the first place, I should like to thank most sincerely every noble Lord who has taken part in this debate. I was particularly moved by the speech of the noble Lord whom only in this House it is not customary to call "my friend," Lord Mathers. I am much moved by what he said in asking me to withdraw my Motion rather than to press it to a Division. At the same time, I am not very happy at the answer I have received from the Government. In the first place, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, skated round the Prime Minister's broadcast. But the Prime Minister told everybody in the country:The Minister of Labour and the T.U.C. have worked untiringly to try and end the strike.That must have told every man on the railways that, in the opinion of the T.U.C., to whom they look for guidance, the strike was a mistake. I should like to repeat, without any special innuendo, the remark of the first Duke of Wellington, who said that in dealing with nations the only way is the absolutely straightforward way. I feel that if the Prime Minister did not mean to urge people to stay at work he should have said definitely that he did not want the men to disobey their unions. I feel that he did influence men to stay at work, and the Government have a responsibility and should take the line that I wish. However. I will take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, and, if he will allow me. I will resort to him for further advice as to the future outside the walls of this House. When we are asked to have patience, I cannot conceal from your Lordships that it is not we who have difficulty in exercising patience, but it is the men who are suffering. That makes me reluctant to do what I am about to do—namely, to beg your Lordships' leave to withdraw this Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.